Topeka Child advocates Tuesday urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would assess a $25 fine to adults who leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
"Cars are not baby sitters," Dr. Dennis Cooley, a Topeka pediatrician, told the Senate Transportation Committee.
Child safety experts warned of numerous dangers of leaving children alone in a vehicle, including excessive heat, the threat of automatic windows, the possibility of being abducted during a car theft and crashes caused when the child accidentally puts the vehicle in motion.
"These tragedies are truly heart-wrenching but preventable," said Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit organization.
In Kansas, there are two choices for law officers when they see a child has been left alone in a vehicle. They can scold the adult or take the children into custody and charge the parent or caregiver with child neglect or endangerment.
Senate Bill 77 would make it unlawful to leave a child age 8 or younger in a vehicle unless they are accompanied by someone 13 or older.
Fennell said the bill would provide a reasonable alternative by authorizing a fine of $25 and developing a safety awareness campaign with the use of federal highway funds. A fine of between $250 and $500 would be assessed for a repeat conviction within three years.
From 1998 through last year, at least 320 children have died in the United States from hyperthermia or heatstroke after being left in a car, Fennell said. Four of these deaths occurred in Kansas.
At least two Kansas children have died since 2001 after being strangled by power windows, she said.
More education for adults on the danger is needed because on an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a car parked under direct sunlight increases to 110 degrees within five minutes, Fennell added.
Committee Chairman Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, said car manufacturers were making changes in vehicles to avoid some hazards, such as back-up sensors and power window switches that must be pulled up instead of pushed down.
But he added, "If you had a vehicle with all these things on it, you would still have to be careful."
After the hearing, Donovan said the committee probably would work on the bill today.